Buying a house together can be an exciting adventure–especially if you are still in the “Romantic Love Stage” of your relationship! Every new piece of furniture and kitchen appliance can be a source of great joy and celebration. I, myself, have marveled over the joy of having a new dish-rack!
But this process can just as easily be a source of stress and conflict. The decisions you need to make seem endless–where to live, how much money to spend, how to decorate, who is going to do the cleaning, and who will take care of the yard. To navigate all of these challenges, you must be able to communicate effectively, respect each other’s feelings and opinions, and be willing to negotiate and compromise.
Indeed, the problems that I see most frequently are the result of couples simply not communicating about what they want, and then being disappointed when differences arise. While many of the issues are similar to other challenges you might face in your relationship, we will discuss some of the unique aspects of buying a home together.
Agree on a budget
We all know that money is a common source of conflict among couples. And when you purchase a home, the expense will be with you for many years to come. A common problem occurs when one of you wants to spend more than the other. Perhaps one of you is more of a “Spender” and the other is more of a “Saver”, in general. Perhaps you have different priorities–one of you wants to pay more for a home, while the other would prefer to spend money on travel, or schools for the kids.
Suggestion: Have a dialogue about your overall “vision” for your lives together. Make a list of sentences that would describe your ideal life, and share these with each other.
Such statements might sound like:
“We travel abroad for a week every year”
“We have enough money to retire by age 60”
“We are able to send our kids to private school”, and so on.
Understand where the cost of a home fits into the larger scheme of your life and relationship vision. If you have differences, see if there is a way to get both of your needs met, as much as possible.
Needs vs. Wants
Before you begin looking at houses, start by clarifying what you feel are “needs” vs. “wants”. A need is usually a “deal-breaker” for you. You may say, “I need a garage”, or “There has to be a spare room that I can use as an office”. Wants are things that are nice, but not really necessary. You might want a jacuzzi or the latest kitchen appliances, but could actually live without them (or, have them installed after you purchase). So begin by making a list of your NEEDS and WANTS. Write them down, and use this as a guide in deciding which houses you will be willing to consider.
Caution: Sometimes what we believe is a “Need” will change. If you find a house that you love, you may decide you are willing to sacrifice something you thought was a need to get everything else the house has to offer. So even here, be open to discussion and change.
Bigger is not always better. Just because one of you can afford to purchase that 5,000 square foot home doesn’t mean that your partner will want to take care of it. I have heard many individuals complain that their large, expensive home is too much to care for. (“It’s a behemoth”, I heard one person say recently). Be realistic about what you need, and what the cost in time and effort will be to maintain your home.
Have clear expectations
Who is going to clean the house? Who will do the yard work? What are your beliefs and expectations about how to run a household? There is no one way to do things, but I believe a good rule of thumb is that things should be equitable, if not equal. It’s okay for one person to do more of something, as long as both agree that it is fair and acceptable. For example–one might do more of the cleaning inside, while the other takes care of the yard and exterior. If you can afford it, the simple solution of hiring a housecleaner or organizer can save you from many an argument!
Location, location, location
Okay–we saved the most challenging for last! This can be the most difficult issue of all, and compromising on this can leave you both feeling miserable. If one wants to live in New York, and the other wants to live in L.A., you probably won’t be happy meeting in the middle in Kansas! Even if you both want to live in L.A., you might disagree on what part of town you want to live in.
Once again, communication is key. Talk about what you like about a particular location. Is it the people, the activities nearby, the schools, the views? If you choose a spot that one of you desires more than the other, see if there is some way to help the other get their needs met as well. This might mean an agreement to visit their preferred location, or to engage in some activity that makes living in the chosen spot more appealing.
Finally, remember that no decision needs to be forever. While moving can be a hassle, if you decide that you are not happy in the home you have chosen, you can always move when the time is right. Like many things, you may need to “take turns”–living for 10 years in the city, to satisfy one of you, and then living in the country for the next 10 years to satisfy the other.
In summary–if you truly respect each other’s needs and desires, and communicate effectively with each other, you should be fine!
Happy house-hunting, and best of luck finding your dream home!